By Maritere R. Bellas
"For me, as both a writer and an educator, it's always about language. I love language: spoken and written," Dr. Olga Grimalt
When I first met Olga Grimalt over thirty years ago, we became instant friends. Though years younger than me, we had an immediate connection: her mom is from the same hometown I grew up with in Puerto Rico, and we both understood the value of being bilingual. I knew then that our lives would always be connected and even though there were years of no communication, kids, work, life, our paths would cross again and again. We even ended up having friends in common and they would reconnect us time and again. Interestingly enough, through language. At the time we met, Olga had finished her degree in Creative Writing and had just started writing her first novel. But she was always interested in languages and by happenstance, she ended up teaching English and Spanish. This was the early nineties. Her love of languages started way before. Since always.
"I was born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut. My father is from Mallorca, Spain and my mother from Ponce, Puerto Rico. They met and married in Bridgeport. When I was a year old, we moved to a neighboring town, Stratford. Although I was born in Bridgeport, I grew up in Stratford. I mention this because there was a larger Hispanic community in Bridgeport. Stratford was more White Anglo-Saxon than Hispanic."
The language in Olga's home was Spanish. Both of her parents were bilingual but they spoke Spanish to each other and to their four children. There were no rules about language use in the home, the language at home was Spanish…that was it. "As I grew up, my siblings and I began to speak English to each other but continued to speak Spanish to our parents."
Olga attended English-only programs at school. She truly believes the reason she and her siblings speak Spanish as fluently as they do is largely because they spent every summer in Mallorca. "Although my family in Mallorca speaks Mallorquín (a dialect of Catalán), they communicated with us in Spanish. Being immersed in Spanish for several weeks a year solidified our fluency. Other children we grew up, now as adults, understand Spanish but do not speak it well."
Growing up both Spanish and Puerto Rican heritage were evident in Olga's house. Most of her parent's friends were Cuban, so she actually grew up with three cultures: Spanish, Puerto Rican and Cuban. Every summer, the family traveled to Spain, and her family from Puerto Rico would visit them in Connecticut. I've traveled to Puerto Rico more often as an adult than as a child. "What's interesting about my upbringing is that in my home we were Hispanic all the way including the plastic covers on our living room furniture. But outside our home, the community was very White Anglo-Saxon with some Italian-American sprinkled in. I was usually the only Spanish speaking child in school."